Friday, September 19, 2014

Birthday Tribute: Karl Held

This must be the week of unpopular opinions, because today is the 19th and it’s time to talk about Karl Held again!

And oh snap. I was just looking him up to make sure he’s still alive (he is; he’s 83 today!), and it said his wife just died this year. Gah. That is so sad. They married in 1964, which is awesome, but now he must be so lonely and sad without her.

Karl is unfortunately quite unpopular among Perry fans. If disliking The Jaded Joker is almost universal, disliking David Gideon seems to be even moreso!

Honestly, I think people are hating on the wrong character. David is a nice boy, despite getting sidetracked for a while and taken in by a femme fatale’s wiles. But Karl’s first Perry character, son of the titular Angry Dead Man, is really a piece of work.

I ordered some things on Amazon recently, and among them was the second half of season 4. I’ve been wanting that for over three years to have the uncut version of The Misguided Missile. Finally, it’s mine! All the Simon scenes are intact and I can watch them any time I want!

I have been watching the episodes I’ve never seen uncut before I go on to my beloved Misguided Missile. The first one I tried was The Angry Dead Man. And of the ones I’ve seen on the set so far from the first two discs, it has the biggest chunks taken out of it on television!

I gave the television set one very long, blank stare when it showed the scene with Lloyd Castle reading about Willard Nesbitt’s death at sea and his receptionist Helen comes in crying. Later, Lloyd is with his secretary Jenny and they are apparently romantically involved. The television version, to the best of my recollection, eliminated all scenes showing Lloyd and Jenny’s relationship, including this one and about two others. Lloyd asks Jenny to marry him in one scene, and this is discussed in court in another scene.

Also missing is a scene right after Willard Nesbitt reads in the paper about the mine and realizes his wife’s being cheated. He runs inside and calls Perry’s office, using a handkerchief to muffle his voice as he talks with Della, pretending to be an IRS agent. When the conversation doesn’t go as he hoped, he hangs up and rushes out to break into the cabin and look for the contract. A short scene where Della talks about the phone conversation is missing as well.

And some of Karl Held’s screentime is also among what’s absent, albeit only a small portion. After he and his stepmother Eve take the luggage outside to go back to the city, the uncut version shows them loading the luggage and getting in the car to drive away.

Bruce Nesbitt is a strange person. In his first scene, he actually seems nice. He holds Eve as she cries over the news of Willard’s (first) death and later tries to bring her a drink. Later, however, he behaves very obnoxiously and disrespectfully, not seeming upset by his father’s death and jeering at his stepmother. He remains obnoxious for the remainder of his screentime, criticizing Eve to Perry on the phone and trying to insinuate in court that she was playing around and that his father wanted him to spy on her because of it. Perry points out that Willard was likely only worried for Eve’s safety.

One of the criticisms against Karl Held is that his acting is wooden. I honestly can’t see anything wrong with it here. He portrays Bruce as a very nasty, selfish, repulsive boy who seriously resents his stepmother and seems indifferent about his father. If Karl’s acting was truly wooden, I doubt Bruce would be so despicable. I also doubt that David would seem much different from him.

But David is very different, and in mostly good ways. While he wasn’t always kind to his grandfather, he was nowhere near as terrible as Bruce, and he did improve. Thankfully, one complaint I’ve never heard against David is that he’s nasty, which is good since he isn’t.

David idolizes Perry and is eager to get back on track and finish law school. While naturally he makes slip-ups, I could really only find a couple in addition to the ones in his first episode. That’s quite different from what some of the fans will say, exaggerating that he’s “always” making mistakes!

There’s about three episodes where he offers helpful suggestions that move the plot along. The same role would have been taken by one of the other team members in other episodes, true, but this did give David something to do. And I thought it was good to have him try to contribute to the episodes instead of just being there like a bump on a log.

He also occasionally investigates, which may or not prove fruitful, just as it doesn’t always prove fruitful when Perry or Paul investigates. Now if David always had good luck, that might come off as more aggravating! Or if he always failed. Instead, as I recall, they seemed to try to have a balance, the same as with the other characters. And that, as far as I’m concerned, makes it fine.

I still wish they would have developed the idea a bit more of Perry teaching David the principles of the law. I really liked that angle. And honestly, David could have become a recurring character, popping in and out of the show perhaps once or twice per season, coming to Perry for advice or maybe even bringing a problem that would end up becoming the mystery for the episode. That would have been fun and perhaps the viewers wouldn’t have found him too intrusive.

Hey, maybe that’s how I could use the character in my stories, if I ever get The Malevolent Mugging finished and continue the mystery series. I also need to decide if I’ll be writing a Halloween Perry story this year. David might be in that if I do.

I’ve actually had an idle thought lately of making one of my screenshot music videos using the song Hallelujah (the Leonard Cohen song) and images from David’s episodes. Some things in the song definitely put me in mind of him, particularly his misadventure with the femme fatale. I don’t know whether I’d really make it, or if I’d post it anywhere if I did, but the idea does intrigue me (even if most people would detest it just for being about David).

David isn’t my favorite character, but I am proud to say I like him. I feel rather sad and puzzled that the dislike of the character is so rampant throughout the fandom. I’ve tried to understand why, but I just can’t seem to see what the problem is. I will agree that it probably wouldn’t have worked to have him there long-term, but since he’s around for only nine episodes, the dislike boggles my mind all the more. I guess it’s just one more of many ways that I am very unconventional.

In any case, I feel that Karl Held did a fine job bringing both Bruce and David to life and making them different as night and day. I’m happy he’s part of the Perry family and I hope he has a very lovely birthday!


  1. I think the knock on David Gideon is that he reminded everyone of any unctuous brown-nosing, goody shoes they had ever known.

    In short, he came off as a practiced butt-licker (forgive use of the term, please.)

    Further, it's not credible that an actor would purposefully want to make that character appear that way so most of us have concluded Karl Held was a really bad actor in Mason.

    anon 2

    That translates into bad acting.

    1. **shrug.** He just seems like a nice kid to me, wanting to be helpful since he idolizes Perry. But if anything is to blame, it seems to me it would be the scripts, since Karl Held would only be saying the lines written for him. Unless the complaint is more the delivery of the lines than the lines themselves, in which case I don't really have an argument since I don't mind the delivery or the character possibly being a goody-two-shoes.

      And I do prefer not to see vulgar talk here. Seems to me there's plenty of ways to say what one means without resorting to that.

    2. Sorry.

      On other Mason sites I've visited over the years, when the subject of David G. comes up, it seems that most people have a deeply negative visceral reaction and when they talk about why, it seems that is why.

      He's often didactic, frequently explaining to Della why Perry did this or that, why one legal maneuver was preferred over another, etc. Della often looks at him as if to say, "You don't need to lecture me, David." Hale pulls this off with underlying maternal humor.

      I'd say that the words written for him were probably supposed to show his eager beaver attitude, his earnestness gone over the top, and as such, the words were fine, but they weren't delivered by an actor who was able to pull them off and still be likeable.

      For instance, Ken Mulansky of the movies was often given the same type of lines, and had he delivered them differently, I do believe he would have come off in a similar light, but he was able to pull them off and be a likeable character.

      I liked Karl Held's acting in the other episode with his grandfather. I think his acting was just fine, but I think he fell far short of being able to "interpret" the Gideon character once he began interning under Mason as a semi-regular. I think the failure was his inability to convey likeability or humor.

    3. I've certainly encountered the negativity everywhere, but no one has ever really managed to satisfactorily explain why. I've heard all kinds of explanations, which I've countered in my posts. Yours is a new one on me, but it does make the most sense. I still don't agree with it being a problem, however. I get what you mean, but to me I find it amusing and cute when he eagerly explains things he really wouldn't have to, and I have no problem with his delivery. And I've known some guys like that in real-life, too. I didn't find it so amusing then, but for some reason it just doesn't bother me with David. So I guess that is something where I'll never be in line with the rest of the fanbase.

  2. The David Gideon arc always struck me as incongruous. He added nothing to the dynamic and in most cases was an uncomfortable fifth wheel.

    Not counting Held's first visit as another character, the Gideon run was only nine episodes. I believe he was on the show because he was dating Raymond Burr and like most relationships, after about two months the infatuation had burned off and Gideon was gone forever.

    Had this happened during the 1965-1966 era, I would have chalked him off to the producers trying to appeal to the youth demographic. But in 1961, with Perry Mason already a huge success with a bulletproof formula and Held only a year into his acting career, his addition just seemed forced.

    1. LOL. That's an explanation for his presence that I hadn't heard yet. It would be interesting to know for sure what the reason was.

  3. I forgot to tell you how much I appreciate your thoughtful commentary! Thank you for a great blog!